Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Genealogy Search Engines: Ancestry.com - Post 1: Old Search, Exact Matches

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

I'm going to start with http://www.ancestry.com/ because it is the largest database provider and seems to have the most critical user comments about its' Search capabilities.

Does http://www.ancestry.com/ satisfy the four defined Search criteria?

* Exact search vs. Fuzzy search: YES - and the user can mix Exact match items and Fuzzy match items.

* Use of a specific database vs. many or all available databases: YES - the Search includes all databases or one database can be selected. The exception is that in Old Search, you select the tab for Historical Records, Family Trees, Stories & Publications, and Photos & Maps. You have to select one of the Tabs, and you get results from only that set of Databases. In New Search, the user gets results from all databases, not just Historical Data databases.

* Use of Wild cards in names: YES - with the limitation of the use of the wild card symbol (an asterisk *) - a given name or last name must have at least three letters ahead of the wild card symbol.

* Use of dates and locations as search criteria: YES - the general Search box has fields to enter specific data.

http://www.ancestry.com/ also offers two User Interfaces for searching - the Old Search and the New Search. In order to evaluate and demonstrate the Search capabilities, I will do the evaluation in four posts, one each for:

* Old Ancestry Search, Exact Matches
* Old Ancestry Search, Fuzzy Matches
* New Ancestry Search, Exact Matches
* New Ancestry Search, Fuzzy Matches

Here is the http://www.ancestry.com/ Search for the Isaac Seaver family in the 1860 US Census, using the Old Ancestry Search interface and the Exact Matches criteria:

The Home screen looks like this, with the given name, last name, birthplace and year of birth entered in the search boxes:

Note that the user can select Advanced Search in the lower right corner or the Search box (under the orange Search button). The Advanced Search box looks like this with the same information filled in:

The Search box has spaces to input:

* Given Name
* Surname
* Birth Year and a +/- range
* Birth country, state, county and city
* Marriage Year and a +/- range
* Marriage country, state, county and city
* Death Year and a +/- range
* Death country, state, county and city
* Residences - Country, state, county and city
* Keywords
* Relatives - Father, Mother, Spouse - given names and last names
* Categories to Search - all or specific

The user can specify Exact match for all of the search criteria.
There is a link for Search tips in the upper right hand corner of the Search box.

For this study, I have input only the given name, surname, birth year and birthplace (country and state) of Isaac Seaver (born 1823 in Massachusetts).

When I click the Search button on the Home page (not the Advanced Search page) (Click 1), I get these results:

The 1860 US census is on the list of Census and Voter Lists, so I click on the 1860 Census link (Click 2):

It is apparent to me that the Search criteria of 1823 for the birth year was not strictly observed for some reason - I got four matches with birth years of 1803, 1809, 1810 and 1824. Is the 1824 entry the one I want? I can run my mouse over the "View Record" link and see a summary of the family, as shown below:

I think that's the right family - so I click on the "View Record" link (Click 3) and the Record Summary appears:

The Record Summary for Isaac Seaver in the 1860 US Census includes the source description, and a database description, at the bottom of the web page (scrolling down):

I can click on the "View Original Image" link (Click 4) and see the image of the page from the 1860 US Census that contains the Isaac Seaver family.

Looking at my four questions, the answers are:

* Does the Search find the record I'm seeking? YES
* How many clicks does it take to find the record? Four (4)
* Does the record provide a source citation? YES
* Was the process easy to use? YES

Would my answer be different if I had used the Advanced Search box? Yes - using the same Search criteria it would have found only one match for the requested Exact Match items - the 1900 US census. If I had added +/- 1 year (or greater), it would have found the 1860 census with one more click.

I really like having the current Search box appear on the bottom of the same page as the Search results. Ancestry.com does this for the pages up until you click View Record (Click 3).

Subsequent posts will evaluate the Old Search - Fuzzy Matches, New Search - Exact Matches and New Search - Fuzzy Searches for the same Search criteria. I will also discuss searching for more difficult names and for persons who are "hiding" in the census because of Enumerator and/or Indexing errors.

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